Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Brookside Ave. Wetland

I popped over to the Brookside Ave. wetland, the secondary source for Burd Run, this morning. I haven't been over there since last Summer, when it looked to be recovering the "wet" in wetland after several years of drying out. Well, now after another wet Winter and Spring, it's really, really full. The collection pond is actually filled right to the brim at the surrounding berm, and all the maze of streamlets are also full and deep. And full of birds! There were a ton of Canada Geese, honking at me in protest the whole time I was there. Ditto the Red-winged Blackbirds, who were also making offended noises at me. And the Tree Swallows are back and nesting. I'm looking forward to a good Summer there this year, with lots of Nature to capture. Here's what I got today.

A view of the very full collection pond
One of the Red-winged Blackbirds who was actively protesting my presence
The Tree Swallows are back and nesting
Burd Run is up and running full, fast, and deep
Daisy Fleabane in the field next to the creek
Another view of the very full collection pond
My first Cabbage White butterfly of the season
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Another Perfect Spring Day

Interestingly enough, the day started off with frost and temps in the low 30s. But it warmed up fast, and by 10:00 am it was hanging around 50º, and this afternoon got into the 60s. The park was certainly active this morning - the soundtrack was provided by Cardinals, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Goldfinches, Carolina Wrens, House Wrens, Red-winged Blackbirds, Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, and more. I caught two of the Woodpeckers arguing in an Osage Orange tree until one drove the other away, and then I got a shot of the victor as he played hide-and-seek with me. One of the Orioles was fluttering around in a deadfall over the creek and was successful in keeping me from getting a good shot. But an Eastern Kingbird obligingly posed for a short while in a small tree up on the edge of the meadow, as did a family of Canada Geese on an outing on the north duck pond. And the trees and shrubs that flower are in full bloom, especially the Redbud. It was a beautiful walk, and I brought some scenes for you to look at.

The forest floor along the Dykeman Walking Trail
The Redbud along the creek is in its full glory
A Red-bellied Woodpecker playing hide-and-seek in an Osage Orange
A family outing on the north duck pond
An Eastern Kingbird at the edge of the meadow
The view north from the top of the meadow
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sunday Bach - First Sunday After Easter

For Bach it had to be a daunting task to compose cantatas for the Sundays between Easter and Pentecost; how in the world do you follow the two Passions - the St. Matthew and the St. John - and the Easter Oratorio and Christ lag in Todesbanden, all considered some of the greatest of his work? Well, Papa Johann managed to follow up with more than sufficient glory. He wrote two cantatas for the first Sunday after Easter, both fine, each with a different focus. BWV 67 celebrates the triumph of the resurrection. This one focuses on the fears of the disciples, who on that Sunday had basically barricaded themselves in the upper room out of fear of the repercussions from the crucifixion, when lo and behold Jesus appeared to them. With BWV 42, Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats (On the evening of that same Sabbath, Leipzig 1725), Bach approaches this situation. Here's a brilliant essay by the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this cantata:
The Cantata BWV 42 is one of the gigantic masterpieces of the genre. It is a piece sui generis unlike not only any other cantata but also any other sacred work in the repertoire. The “low Sunday” works, such as this one, present a very distinctive task for the composer of liturgical music. There a sense of having to make a new beginning, dramatically, after holidays such as Easter and Christmas. These days inevitably have an ambiguity and emotionally more charged feel to them than the unabashedly joyful feast days. It is interesting that the two cantatas for “Quasimodogeniti,” the Sunday after Easter, are infinitely greater than any of the Easter cantatas. There are two tasks to the composer. The meaning and sense of Easter must permeate the work; at the same time the very real fear and sense of “what happens next?” must dominate. In his two cantatas Bach comes to two radically different solutions. In his other Quasimodogeniti work, the Cantata BWV 67, Bach creates two columns on each end of the piece; an opening chorus exhorts the Christian to hold on to the memory of the resurrected Christ; the final bass aria presents the climactic entrance of Christ in the upper room. 
Our cantata here has a very different shape. The events of Easter are represented by a large da capo sinfonia. Common wisdom has it that this is a first movement of a concerto grosso, now lost. While, of course, this may be true, the work is so perfectly suited to its task here, and has such an unusually warm and gentle demeanor, that it is hard to imagine that it wasn’t written for this spot. There is also a strong sense as one progresses through the movement that the obbligato oboes and bassoon represent the two Marys and Jesus on Easter morning. The movement opens with a soft-edged and lovely tutti. The opening quarter note by the violins has a wonderful ‘lighter than air’ lift to it that sets the tone for the whole movement. The two oboes and bassoon play rich obbligati, relating to each other in a vocal, human way. Sometimes the oboes are in opposition to the bassoon; sometimes one oboe will be alone while the other allies with the bassoon. The B section is even more rhapsodic. Against leggiero tutti strings the three winds each plays a cantabile melody, finally joining in a rapturous trio.

After such heavenly music it is almost painful to leave it, but Bach plunges us into the continuation of the story with a pulsing and ominous bass line that underpins the tenor’s narration of the fear and paranoia that plagued the disciples after Jesus’ death. The last line describes how, in this suspicious atmosphere and behind locked doors, Jesus was, all of a sudden, in their midst. In one of the supreme dramatic moments in all of Bach, the dark hollow texture of the pulsing bass reverts to the glowing strings of the opening sinfonia. The two oboes play at first a gorgeous cantabile imitative melody followed by a darting, almost playful, pattern that is an uncanny portrayal of the state of grace that Jesus provided for the disciples. The voice part is conversational, almost casual sounding. It is a kind of combination of the rhetorical and the lyrical that would dominate 19th century German operatic writing. Notice how the jagged and broken lines describing the “where two or three are gathered ” then meld into the ravishing cantabile on the words” in Jesus precious name.” The A section of this da capo aria is on a large scale, imbued with an expansive generosity of spirit. The B section is surprisingly tough and arid sounding. The warm, full orchestra is replaced by a vaulting and aggressive solo bass line. In the midst of this section there is an eccentric little bass figure that appears out of the blue. Its purpose is completely mysterious until we hear that it refers to the opening bass line of the following duet for soprano and tenor.

With the advent of the soprano-tenor duet #4 it becomes clear that Bach is using the maximum contrast to propel his story. The warm sinfonia was followed by the hollow recitative. The same warm opening texture was revived for the A section of the alto aria with the barren sound reintroduced in the B section. After the recapitulation of the A, the duet #4 reintroduces the continuo-dominated sonority. Here the spiky and bare-bones line of the cello and bassoon is intensified by a thumping and insistent independent bass line. It is clear that Bach had both a harpsichord, figured in the cello part, and an organ, figured in the bass part. Over this elaborate bass, the voices, pitched high and sounding somewhat hysterical, sing their jagged and paranoid line. All of the richness of the “Easter” harmony is replaced here by a lurid, twilight chromaticism. The lines are astoundingly jagged and awkward.

The transition from the glow of Easter to the fearful “what happens next” quality of the days after Easter, is here complete. The secco bass recitative speaks of fear of reprisals, and has one of the most distasteful examples of a kind of knee-jerk anti-Semitism in all of Bach. The aria for bass has brilliant obbligati for two solo violins. Here we have Jesus as the great military leader. The violins play striking and aggressive arpeggio figures against a marching bass line. All of the subtle rhetoric of the alto aria and the angularity of the duet are here replaced by straight-ahead virtuoso operatic writing for the bass. If this aria is more conventional in character than all that has come before, it is one of the great brilliant pieces of vocal writing in all of Bach.

Bach ends this gigantic and great cantata with one of the profoundest of all his chorale harmonizations. The large double chorale by Luther,”Verleih uns Frieden-Gib unsern Fürsten” was used several months earlier to close the cantata BWV 126. In that context it was a plea for peace after one of the most savage of all of the cantatas. Here it relates to the end of the cantata and reminds us how far we have come from the gentle grace of the opening sinfonia. The harmonization is of unparalleled richness. There are subtle changes in character between the two chorales. The bass line of the opening is almost always in a downward motion that is replaced in “Gib unsern Fürsten” by upward lines. The harmony of the 2nd chorale gains a kind of radiance both by use of pedal points, and in the grand sweeping lines of the “Amen.” 
In Cantata BWV 42 we have from Bach a whole new kind of inward drama, a drama of the soul, that he virtually invented. The contrast of an inward state of grace with outward fear and danger is central to early Christianity; it has never been more profoundly characterized than in this cantata. 
© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from a 1990 Harmonia Mundi France recording by La Chapelle Royale and Vocale Collegium Gent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Enjoy!

Photo © 2018 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Another Perfect Spring Day

Today was another perfect Spring day, so after morning chores I popped up to the Rail Trail for a brief walk-around. It's greening up nicely, the birds are making the usual cacophonous symphony, and the flowers are blooming. I also stopped by the Burd Run riparian repair project park, but it's still pretty much flooded out from last year's and this year's more-than-abundant rains. So today's Spring flowers were all shot on the Rail Trail. Enjoy!

Walking on the Rail Trail
Crab Apple blossoms
A patch of Spring Beauty (yes, that's the name of this particular flower)
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Earth Day 2019

“The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us. Thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls, and every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love.”
John Muir 

Today is Earth Day, and luckily I'm off work, the first day of my "weekend". This year I decided to dedicate my Earth Day photo shoot to the small gems of Mama Gaia's palette, the myriad flowers bursting into bloom this time of year, and especially the small, even tiny, ones that require that I use my camera's macro setting and get down on my belly and elbows to get close enough to reveal their beauty. This approach was partially inspired by Peter Mayer's song "Awake", which approaches Nature from a child's perspective. I posted it on Facebook this morning, and it's also posted here below the photos. Happy Earth Day, friends! Get out and wrap yourself in Mama Gaia's beauty; your soul will thank you for it.

Tulips and Narcissi in the gardens at McLean House
Garlic Mustard along the Dykeman Walking Trail
From death springs life - a seedling sprouting in a rotten log
Common Violets in the Dykeman Spring wetland
Ground Ivy, aka Creeping Charlie, along the Upland Trail on the way to the meadow
A sea of Wild Mustard up on the meadow

Photos © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sunday Bach - Easter Sunday

Bach wrote five cantatas and an oratorio for Easter, some of which I've posted here on Easters past. This year I've chosen one of his earlier ones - BWV 31, Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret (Heaven laughs! The earth rejoices, Weimar 1715). It's very appropriate music for the central celebration of the Church, complete with trumpet fanfares and jubilant choruses. Here's the late Craig Smith on this most majestic of Bach's cantatas:
Bach Cantata BWV 31 is a work from Bach's first great maturity. Written in 1715 in Weimar, it is one of the most majestic of the Weimar cantatas. It opens with a brilliant, energetic sinfonia, setting the stage for a wonderful, vibrant chorus. As is typical of Bach after the outgoing opening, the work goes inward. The bass recitative and aria have a starkness in contrast to the chorus. The tenor aria is much warmer and friendlier. It has a marvelous jaunty tune which curiously only appears in the strings, the tenor always singing an obbligato. The high point of the cantata is the heavenly soprano aria: only Bach could lead us to this transcendent, inward spot on Easter Day. A simple, almost folklike tune in the oboe is mirrored in the soprano. Against that, all of the strings play the chorale "Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist" which is then sung in a rich, five-voice setting to bring the cantata to a quiet close. 
© Craig Smith
Today's video is from a performance in 2017 by the Ensemble Pygmalion under the direction of Raphaël Pichon. Enjoy!

Photo © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Bach on Good Friday - The St. Matthew Passion

Bach wrote his greatest work for the Good Friday of 1727, his monumental St. Matthew Passion. This description by musicologist David Gordon says it best: "The massive yet delicate work, with its multiple levels of theological and mystical symbolism, its powerful and dramatic biblical teachings, and its psychological insight, is one of the most challenging and ambitious musical compositions in the entire Western tradition." [Note: You can read Gordon's excellent essay on this great work here. I highly recommend it!]

I've chosen the beautiful performance of this, Bach's greatest work, by the orchestra and chorus of the Collegium Vocale Gent, under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. A warning: Save listening to this until you're settled for the day or night; it's almost three hours long. Enjoy!

Photo © 2006 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

After the Rains Comes Greening and Blooming

Heavy rains and warmer temperatures were the order of business for the last week or so, and the result was an outburst of greening and blooming over the weekend. This morning's weekly walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park yielded a treasure trove of color and activity, including a rare visit from a Pied-bill Grebe on the north duck pond. Come take a look.

Branch Creek is getting colorful
The Dykeman Walking Trail is greening up nicely
Crabapple blossoms along the trail
A male Red-winged Blackbird in the wetland
Spring color in the wetland
Spring along the banks of the north duck pond
A Painted Turtle in the bog pool
A Pied-bill Grebe on the north duck pond
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sunday Bach - Palm Sunday

Bach composed one cantata for Palm Sunday - BWV 182, Himmelskönig, sei willkommen (King of heaven, welcome, Weimar, 1714). This is one of Bach's earliest cantatas, and as such it's written for a very small chamber ensemble; the effect is very simple and very intimate, a surprising thing for the celebration of Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. One wonders how Bach would have written this during the peak of his career in Leipzig. In any case, here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on the subject:
Bach Cantata BWV 182 was one of the earliest works written in Weimar and is thus one of Bach's earliest cantatas. It has a charming chamber-sized orchestration of recorder, one violin, two violas, cello and organ. The opening sinfonia has the sound of early morning about it. The recorder and solo violin trade off piquant dotted lines against the pizzicato of the other strings. The opening chorus is delightfully child-like in its portrayal of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem. The solo bass intones a line from Psalm 40 as an introduction to the stirring aria with the strings. The solo recorder returns as the obbligato to the poignant alto aria. This is the beginning of the transition of the cantata from the joyous entrance into Jerusalem to a meditation on the Passion. The continuo aria with tenor is a further passion-like piece. It would not be out of place in one of the Passion settings. After the penultimate            chorale prelude on the tune "Jesu Kreuz, Leiden und Pein," the light chorus "So lasset uns gehen in Salem der Freuden" ends the cantata.

© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from a new offering from the J.S. Bach Foundation of Trogen, Switzerland, under the direction of Rudolf Lutz. Enjoy!

Photo © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

More Signs of Spring

I went walking this morning to find more signs of Spring to shoot. I went up King St. to the Peace Garden in the Shippensburg Memorial Park; not much going on, just a few dabs of color, which I got. Then off to the path that runs parallel to the railroad tracks next to the park, where I got two more pictures, and especially the one of the Thyme-leaved Speedwell, whose flowers are only about 2mm across at most. Yeah, I did the belly crawl again today. Then back home via Westover Rd., where there's a Backyard Wildlife Habitat. Not much going on there yet, but I did get a shot of the Daffodil patch next to the sidewalk. Altogether it was a good hike!

A rock garden along West King St.
Buds on a Weeping Cherry in the Peace Garden
Flowering ground cover in the Peace Garden
The path paralleling the railroad tracks is greening up
Thyme-leaved Speedwell on the path
Daffodils along Westover Rd.
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, April 08, 2019

It Has Begun

"I stuck my head out the window this morning and Spring kissed me bang on the face."
– Langston Hughes

Yup, Spring has definitely sprung, and my weekly walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park certainly showed it. It's much greener now, and all of the Daffodils along the trail by the creek are blooming, as are a myriad small flowers that require that I do the patented Hilbinger Belly-Crawl to get a good macro shot of them. And oh look, it's Turkle Time! I saw my first-of-the-year Painted Turtle sunning on a stick in the bog pool next to the north duck pond. And to top it off, I saw this year's first Northern Water Snake in their favorite perch - on a branch over the creek. This was an older one; its signature brown bars had faded and it was a solid gray-brown, a sure sign of age in this species. Mama Gaia is waking up after her long Winter sleep!

Chickweed is growing all along the Dykeman Walking Trail
So is Heal-All
A Pussywillow catkin in full bloom along the trail
Daffodils along the creek
More Daffodils along the creek
The Northern Water Snake on its perch over the creek
A sunning Painted Turtle
Part of a large patch of Corn Speedwell on the berm around the north duck pond
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Sunday Bach - Lent 5

Digging around in the Bach catalog because of the lack of cantatas during Lent, I stumbled across something interesting - BWV 71, Gott ist mein König (God is my king, Mühlhausen 1708). This was written to celebrate the inauguration of Mühlhausen's town council in 1708, and was the first piece of Bach's music to be published; in fact, it was the only one actually in print during his lifetime. This cantata is an interesting peek at his earliest work, and shows both the influences and intimations of things to come. Here's musicologist Simon Crouch on this cantata:
Gott ist mein König, a cantata for the inauguration of the Mühlhausen town council in February 1708, was the first piece of Bach's music to be published and in fact remained the only cantata to appear in print during his lifetime. It is also one of Bach's earliest cantatas. The work starts in suitably festive mood with a flourish on the trumpet and drums and a rousing opening chorus. The temperature immediately drops, though, in the first aria (a duet for soprano and tenor) and this is followed by quite a curiosity: A vocal fugue for the soloists that starts a capella and is only accompanied later by a subdued organ basso. This is a most effective movement. It is followed immediately by another attractive movement, an arioso for bass with very beautiful woodwind and continuo accompaniment. The alto aria that follows has a basically simple accompaniment but occasional interjections from the trumpet and drums lively things up a bit. We're then into the final two choral movements, the first a simple and beautiful melody with flowing orchestral accompaniment and the second a bit of a strange mixture that includes another vocal fugue for the soloists. This ending for the cantata always strikes me as being strangely low key.

Copyright © 1996 & 1998, Simon Crouch
Today's performance is from a recording by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger